Cullman’s Hayes 1 of 3 finalists in nationwide organic gardening competition

Kelly Hayes, seen here at her urban farm in southwest Cullman, is one of three finalists in the Johnny Appleseed Organic Invitational. (Kelly Hayes/Facebook)

CULLMAN, Ala. – Cullman’s Kelly Hayes, a second-grade teacher at West Elementary School and owner of Urban Farm and Forage, is one of three finalists in the nationwide Johnny Appleseed Organic Invitational.  

“When I found out we had made it to the final three in the nation I felt so blessed and thankful,” said Hayes. “I am thankful for the opportunity to be an ambassador for organic home gardening. We are so blessed to live in a community with such a rich agricultural background that has been so supportive.” 

Hayes is competing against the best organic gardeners in the U.S. in six challenges: Heaviest Tomato, Hottest Pepper, Most Exquisite Curated Container Arrangement, Heaviest Sweet Potato or Yam, Heaviest Squash and Best Organic Gardening Hack.  

The top three finalists, out of 12 competitors, are from completely different parts of the U.S., only sharing their love of farming and healthy living. Competing with Hayes for the top prize are Courtney McCary of Alamogordo, New Mexico, and Janelle Soja from Medina, Ohio. 

The winner will have her choice of prizes: a check for $50,000, one Bitcoin, a Kubota tractor with attachments, an organic farm deed at Johnny Appleseed Organic Village or a new, electric Ford F-150 truck. Hayes said her choice would be the $50,000 check.  

The gardeners are competing from their home gardens, with social media followers determining the organic hack and container arrangement challenge winners through public voting on Instagram. The container arrangement challenge aims to eliminate space barriers and prove a full garden bounty can be organically grown in as little as 45 gallons.  

To watch and vote, tune in to each contestant’s Instagram account (@courtney.mccary, @kellyhayes53098 and @royalfarefarm). Votes will be counted via “likes,” or “hearts.” Organic hack voting will be Sept. 13-18, and container arrangement voting will be Sept. 20-25. 

The heaviest cultivar category winners are determined by certified scale. The hottest open pollinated pepper will be judged using Scoville ratings calculated by Southwest Bio-Labs in Las Cruces, New Mexico. 

Contestants will receive points for their placement in each category, with a cumulative winner determined at the end of the contest on Sept. 30. 

Hayes talked a little about her homestead farm and her dedication to organic farming. 

“We try to keep everything as close to God’s original design in nature as possible. We free range backyard chickens, which controls our pests and also gives us more nutritious eggs in return because they are eating what they were created to eat: bugs and pests from the soil. We compost their waste weekly and use the eggshells we do not compost to feed our tomatoes, which love the natural calcium and phosphorus the shells provide,” she said.  

“I keep anywhere from five to 10 beehives, which naturally pollinate our mini fruit orchard and the potager garden. We harvest their honey and use it as our sweetener all year and for medicinal purposes. I use our raw honey in elderberry and fire cider tonics as part of our health care routine,” she continued. “I keep two Nigerian Dwarf goats that provide us with all the rich organic milk we need for dairy, cheese and homemade soaps, helping us avoid the presence of any chemicals in our house.” 

As for the gardening challenges in the contest, Hayes said she chose to grow Carolina Reaper peppers, Gold Medal heirloom tomatoes, Georgia Jet sweet potatoes and a giant pumpkin. She will show two containers: a summer bouquet in a bag and an heirloom tomato pie in a bag.  

“I grew up playing on the land we now live (on) as a child. I have been interested in plants and animals since I was a young child. My dad, Gene Crutchfield, was a science teacher at Cullman Middle School, and later a principal. His love was always teaching science, though. He always missed the classroom once he left, but he was always coming back in the classrooms volunteering to do cool science projects like dissecting pregnant sharks, etc. I grew up with such an appreciation for nature, life cycles, beauty and the healing we can experience from being in God’s creation, from my father,” Hayes smiled.  

“My husband and I built our little urban farm 17 years ago. We actually planted all the fruit trees before we even decided where our house would go. I knew I wanted to grow our own food. Growing healthy organic food and giving my kids a place to experience nature was always something I knew I would pass on to my kids,” she said. “I am a second-grade teacher at West Elementary where I am the faculty member in charge of our outdoor classroom. I am very passionate about getting kids back outside and connected to nature. My favorite person in history is Beatrix Potter, and she once said, ‘If I can do anything, even a little, to help small children enjoy honest, simple pleasures, I have done a bit of good in this world.’ I try to live by that motto. I know why God placed me here, and I am right where he wants me. I will continue to passionately advocate for children’s well-being and connect them with the natural rhythms of nature as long as I can.” 

See Hayes’ video on the Johnny Appleseed Organic Invitational YouTube channel at

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